Cubs

Anthony Rizzo's 'throwback' approach at the plate setting the tone for Cubs

Anthony Rizzo's 'throwback' approach at the plate setting the tone for Cubs

It's becoming tougher and tougher to tell Anthony Rizzo and Joey Votto apart.

Joe Maddon has seen a bit of Votto in Rizzo for years and that has never been the case more than the first couple months of the 2017 season.

The Cincinnati Reds first baseman has led the league in walks four times and on-base percentage five times. Rizzo has yet to accomplish either feat in his seven-year career, but he's taken his offensive profile to Votto levels this season.

Votto is the only player in baseball with a better walk-to-strikeout ratio among qualified hitters.

Rizzo has 39 walks compared to only 31 strikeouts, on pace for 102 free passess and 81 whiffs, both of which would easily surpass his previous career bests (78 walks, 105 strikeouts).

Since May 19 — a span of 89 plate appearances — Rizzo has struck out just five times while drawing 14 walks and posting a .438 on-base percentage. 

That's a stark contrast to the changes baseball has seen over the last couple years where strikeouts are at an all-time high as everybody focuses on exit velocity and hitting the ball in the air. Gone are the days where almost every guy choked up on the bat and tried to shorten his swing with two strikes to just put the ball in play.

"He takes it seriously," Maddon said. "He definitely is a throwback when it comes to that method. I think it's beautiful. Him and Votto within our division probably do that as well as anybody I've seen over the last several years.

"Really adapting to the count and not trying to do too much in the count. Literally taking what the pitcher is giving you at that point."

That approach helped the Cubs Sunday as Rizzo keyed the charge to bust out of their losing streak and offensive slump with a first-inning double on the 10th pitch of an at-bat against Antonio Senzatela. 

Rizzo got down in the count (1-2) before choking up and shortening up, fouling off four of the next six pitches before he got one he liked, depositing it into the right-field corner and giving the Cubs a much-needed lead and breath of fresh air.

He nearly accomplished the same thing Saturday when he reached out and blooped a two-strike pitch into shallow left field, bumping Kris Bryant to third base with only one out, but the Cubs failed to cash in on that scoring opportunity.

Maddon would like to see more Cubs players follow in Rizzo's footsteps, especially given the Cubs' offensive struggles this season.

Rizzo has already seemingly had an impact on Bryant — the reigning National League MVP — who has cut down on his strikeouts for the second straight season and is now walking more than ever.

"There's nothing wrong with choking up," Maddon said. "There's nothing wrong with shortening up. There's nothing with making adaptations during an at-bat in order to move the baseball. That's all appropriate. It's good.

"I love the fact that either the best or the second-best hitter on the team does those things. Even to the point where I love when minor-league guys watch him within our organization and hopefully wanna emulate him.

"It's a mindset, man. It's something that you have to be willing to do — understand it, understand why you're doing it. It was really a big part of the fabric of the game for a while among many players in the lineup. Now, it's just a couple guys that are able to do it."

Joe Maddon goes after Sean Doolittle's delivery: ‘That's exactly what I was told Carl can't do’

Joe Maddon goes after Sean Doolittle's delivery: ‘That's exactly what I was told Carl can't do’

The Cubs finished Saturday's loss at the Nationals under protest after Joe Maddon saw what he believed to be an inconsistency in how illegal pitches are being called.

Nationals reliever Sean Doolittle came in to close the game out in the ninth with the Nats up 5-2. After one pitch, Maddon went to the umpires to complain. This dragged on throughout the inning.

Maddon didn't like that Doolittle's delivery involved him pausing and potentially even touching the ground in the middle of his wind up before coming home with the pitch. To Maddon, it was clearly an illegal pitch and he was fired up because that's something Carl Edwards Jr. got called for earlier in the season. By comparison, Edwards' version may be more deliberate, but Maddon thinks it is the same thing.

"That's exactly what I was told Carl can't do," Maddon said postgame in a video posted by ESPN's Jesse Rogers. "There's no judgment. If he taps the ground, it's an illegal pitch, period. There's nothing to judge. You can judge whether he did or not. It's obvious that he did, or if you can't tell that then there's something absolutely wrong."

Maddon and the Cubs protested the game as a result. If they win the protest, the game would be restarted with one out in the ninth, when Maddon notified the umpires of the protest.

Doolittle was less than amused by Maddon's protest.

"I have no qualms against Doolittle," Maddon said. "He's great, but they took it away from our guy so for me to sit in the dugout and permit that to happen while they stripped us of that ability earlier this year with Carl, how could I do that? You can't do that. I got to say something."

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Jon Lester's hot streak comes to an end at Nationals

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USA TODAY

Jon Lester's hot streak comes to an end at Nationals

Jon Lester was on a heck of a run since coming off the IL in late April, but it came to a screeching halt on Saturday.

Lester had by far his worst start of the season at the Nationals in a 5-2 Cubs loss. He labored through his start, giving up five runs in 4 1/3 innings.

Lester gave up 10 hits, which matches the most he has given up since joining the Cubs. He gave up a fair number of hits in his last two starts, but was able to avoid trouble on the scoreboard. Lester gave up nine hits in 6 2/3 innings against the Brewers last time out, but only gave up an unearned run. On May 7, Lester gave up eight hits to the Marlins, but only allowed two unearned runs in six innings of work.

This time, Lester couldn’t stay out of trouble. Brian Dozier got the Nats on the board with a solo shot in the second and then the wheels came off in the third.

To open the third inning Lester gave up six straight hits. The Nats got three runs that inning and then added another in the fifth, when Lester departed the game.

Since Lester came off the IL on April 25, he had allowed just one earned run (four runs in total) in 24 2/3 innings. During that stretch, he had 25 strikeouts against just two walks. His ERA fell to 1.16, which would have led all of baseball if he had enough innings to qualify. It’s at 2.09 after Saturday’s loss.

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